#113 The Princess Bride
(1987, Rob Reiner)
“As you wish…”
It’s so hard to watch this movie and not see Cary Elwes as Robin Hood in Mel Brooks’ parody movie Men In Tights. His character is so painfully similar, from mannerisms and accent (unlike other Dread Pirates, he can speak with an English accent!) to perfectly trained fencing skills, that I cannot separate them. The fact that The Princess Bride attempts to deconstruct fantasy swashbucklers so much doesn’t help.
So, this movie is deemed to be a classic movie for people who grew up in the 80s. It’s a family fantasy movie about daring heroes and long-suffering princesses. There are pirates and giants and kings and other exciting things.
Initially, it seems confusing since it’s clearly set in an eighties child’s bedroom to begin with, and Fred Savage is playing an 8-bit video game. But then it becomes clear that the entire fantasy plot is told through a story told to Savage by his grandfather (Peter Falk). The story is about a young girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright), who falls in love with her stable boy Westley (Elwes), who leaves to seek his fortune and gets lost at sea. Buttercup later gets engaged to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin, but then gets kidnapped by a group of outlaws (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin & Andre The Giant). But then a mysterious masked stranger appears to save her…
Initially I was disappointed with The Princess Bride. I didn’t like the framing story since I found Fred Savage annoying, the fantasy elements seemed a little weak, and there didn’t seem to be anything particularly laugh out loud about the humour. I became to wonder why on earth the film was regarded as such a classic, since it seemed pretty dull.
And then Cary Elwes entered as the masked man, and had a sword fight with Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, and suddenly it all made sense. These two actors pretty much carry the film together. Montoya in particular is a fantastic character, a charming and sympathetic Spanish fencer on the hunt for revenge. I warmed to him pretty quickly, and found him highly entertaining. Elwes as Westley was also fun, and it made me realise just how good he is at playing swashbuckling characters (see also: that Robin Hood comparison).
Shame the characterisation doesn’t spread too well to other characters. The princess bride of the title isn’t all that interesting, spending much of the movie standing around in a castle waiting for Westley. For a film that clearly tries to deconstruct the fantasy genre, it’s a shame she doesn’t try to escape on her own merits or start some fights of her own. It would be a nice change to the damsel in distress she’s clearly meant to be. As it is, she’s just dull.
Speaking of the fantasy deconstruction, it works for the most part, but not as well as I’d hoped. Really, the movie is a straight fantasy adventure with jokes in it. Westley undergoes three challenges against the three outlaws, endures torture and fights against the evil king to save the day and get the girl. Inigo’s revenge story is just that, and doesn’t do anything different to what you’d expect.
The film is a little muddled. It’s unclear if it’s trying to be comedy or a straight family fantasy movie. But it works, oddly enough. The comedy’s a little cheesy at times and the plot’s a little predictable, the beginning of the movie feels a little flat, and I could do without the slightly obnoxious Fred Savage scenes. But it is entertaining, mostly because of the work of Elwes and Patinkin, as stated earlier. There are some good effects, and some genuinely funny moments.
Overall, I can see why The Princess Bride is so well-loved, and it’s hard to criticise it entirely. It’s just not as great as everyone says it is. A nice family film that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but not much more.
Starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Andre The Giant, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal & Carol Kane
Written by William Goldman
Produced by Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman & Norman Lear
Music by Mark Knopfler
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Edited by Robert Leighton
Favourite Scene: The swordfight between a masked Westley and Inigo Montoya. Even if I kept seeing Cary Elwes as Robin Hood.
Scene That Bugged Me: Anytime Fred Savage interrupts the action to be an obnoxious know-it-all.
Watch it if: You wish
Avoid it if: You killed Inigo’s father. Instead, prepare to die